Lanzarotti Readmitted to ACBL

In re the Readmission of Massimo Lanzarotti

By Georgia Heth, Chair, Appeals and Charges Committee

Massimo Lanzarotti was readmitted to the ACBL in November 2018 after a hearing by the Appeals and Charges Committee (A & C).  This decision has generated much discussion.  Regulations provide that disciplinary proceedings are confidential.  However, due to the widespread interest in this decision, both the ACBL and Mr. Lanzarotti have agreed to waive confidentiality and allow this explanation to be published.

There has been much discussion about how a player could be readmitted after being expelled.  Our regulations provide for readmission after a first expulsion, but not after a second.  A suspension means that the player is automatically allowed to resume playing once the period of suspension has been served.  Expulsion means a player can no longer play unless they are readmitted.  Regulations in effect in 2005 provided that a player could apply for readmission after five years if they admitted guilt, provided an appropriate apology, and were supported by their local organization.  Current regulations require a five-year waiting period if the player admitted guilt prior to the hearing on the charges, and a 10-year waiting period if a hearing was held. All requests are reviewed and decided by the Appeals and Charges Committee and reported to the Board of Directors.

In 2005, a championship committee found Lanzarotti and his partner, Andrea Buratti, guilty of cheating by sharing unauthorized information, specifically that Mr. Lanzarotti looked in an opponent’s hand and signaled the trump distribution to his partner.  He was originally suspended for 30 months, which was reduced to 18 months upon appeal. He resumed playing bridge at the end of his sentence in non-ACBL events. The ACBL brought its own charges against Lanzarotti and Buratti, as the Code of Disciplinary Regulations gives the ACBL jurisdiction over its members’ behavior even if it occurs in a non-ACBL event, which this offense did.  On Nov. 18, 2005, the ACBL Ethical Oversight Committee found Lanzarotti and Buratti guilty of violating Law 73 of the Laws of Duplicate Bridge by deliberately communicating unauthorized information that was gathered by viewing the unplayed cards of an opponent.  Both men were expelled from the ACBL.  The committee also recommended that if either man was ever readmitted to the ACBL, they would forfeit all masterpoints won in the year prior to the offense.  Regulations in effect in 2005 only allowed removal of all masterpoints and titles for convictions for cheating in ACBL events and thus did not apply to this case.  All convictions for ethical violations are reviewed by A & C. This decision was confirmed by A & C in its entirety.  Mr. Lanzarotti applied for readmission in 2011 and 2014 and was denied.

Regulations in effect at the time of Mr. Lanzarotti’s expulsion provided guidelines for factors to consider at a readmission hearing.  These are 1) admission of guilt, 2) appropriate written apology and 3) support for readmission from the player’s local bridge organization.  Mr. Lanzarotti was unable to meet the first two conditions at the first two readmission hearings, as he denied guilt.  However, the committees at both of these hearings thought he had proved rehabilitation.  Two of the current members of A & C served on all four of Mr. Lanzarotti’s hearings before the committee and were familiar with what occurred in the three prior hearings.

A & C was aware that there had been allegations made prior to the 2005 hearing that Lanzarotti and Buratti were cheating.  A report from a prior ACBL National Recorder revealed that he had investigated the pair but found no evidence of cheating, which was part of the evidence at the 2018 hearing. This report is discussed further in the evidence section below.  In the “old days”, pairs suspected of cheating were kibitzed and observed. Results were scrutinized. The widespread videotaping now in use was not available then. Lanzarotti was convicted of a one-time violation, not a pattern of behavior, and there was no evidence at the time of a pattern of behavior. A & C was bound by the evidence provided and the scope of the conviction.

The following is a summary of the evidence considered relevant by A & C at the most recent hearing that led to Mr. Lanzarotti’s readmission.

  1. Mr. Lanzarotti admitted cheating and explained what occurred. He made a complete disclosure and full apology.  The Italian Bridge Federation (FIGB) supported his application and confirmed that there had been no disciplinary proceedings against him since he had resumed playing. These three things satisfied the requirements necessary for consideration of his readmission.

The next pieces of evidence were those considered relevant in deciding to allow his readmission.

  1. A report prepared by Richard Colker in 2005 (which he confirmed to still be his current opinion and belief as of the time of the 2018 hearing) was provided. Mr. Colker was the ACBL National Recorder from 1996 to 2003.  In summary, he stated that he had kibitzed thousands of hands played by Lanzarotti and Buratti prior to 2004, and more after that with the most recent having been the 2005 Cavendish Pairs won by Lanzarotti and Buratti.  At the 2005 Cavendish, he kibitzed both high- and low-scoring sessions by the pair. He was “well aware of the suspicions that have been circulating for many years about this pair’s honesty.  He stated that initially “much of what they did in bidding and play seemed strange and in many respects inexplicable, due in large part to his lack of familiarity with their bidding system and carding methods.”  However, as he became familiar with their methods, both from kibitzing so many hands and from studying their system notes, which they voluntarily provided to him, he could understand why they took certain actions in most of the hands that were being circulated as proof of their cheating.  He further stated, “in addition, I consistently found that the more I knew about their methods, the more I could anticipate and account for their actions at the table, contrary to other players who have been found guilty of cheating and for whom knowing their methods provided little insight in to their success.”  He did say that he felt that some of their explanations at the table could be more complete, as he did not think they explained all inferences available from their system, but he also said he saw them go out of their way to give advantages to the opponents, e.g., by allowing potential penalty cards to be returned to an opponent’s hand.  His conclusion was “as far as their ethics go, I can honestly say that I saw nothing during that time which convinced me that they were anything other than honest and ethical in their bidding, declarer play and defense.
  2. A copy of the report from the FIGB in which he was declared to be “rehabilitated” was provided. This decision was issued on July 11, 2012, and required that at least three years had passed since the sentence was served (more than five years had elapsed) and that he had shown “effective and consistent good conduct as shown by positive and consistent facts of repentance” up and until the time the decision on the application for rehabilitation was made.  The proceedings had been suspended for six months because a complaint had been filed against Mr. Lanzarotti in December 2011 regarding the “Milan tournament.”  When the case was considered again, that complaint had been closed without proceedings and the rehabilitation was granted.  The tribunal found that Mr. Lanzarotti met all requirements.
  3. Mr. Lanzarotti has been very involved in helping train Italian Junior bridge players, volunteering extensively “to share his knowledge and experience.” Italy does not have a formal training program for Juniors like the US and Canada do. He plays and works with Juniors individually.  He has worked with at least eight players who have represented Italy in Junior championships, some of whom only made the team after he worked with them.  Mr. Lanzarotti started this volunteer work after his conviction.
  4. Mr. Lanzarotti has played again for approximately 11 years since his expulsion without incident. This evidence of rehabilitation is rarely available as most players expelled by the ACBL do not have the opportunity to play in organized bridge elsewhere.

Mr. Lanzarotti’s masterpoints won during the year prior to his conviction have been removed and replaced by eligibility points.  He had won 450.91 masterpoints in the year prior to his conviction.